Madurai S Somasundaram is one of the most popular musicians from Tamilnadu. Madurai Somu, as he was affectionately known, had his early training under Sesha Bhagavatar, Abhirama Sastri and Sundaresa Bhattar. Later, he went to the great master, Chittoor Subramanyam Pillai. He gave his first public performance in 1934 at Tiruchendur. His music was highly appealing because of its rich emotional content and very soon, Somu became a household name in Tamilnadu. He popularised plenty of Tamil songs. The Annamalai University conferred upon him an honorary doctorate during its golden jubilee celebrations.
Madurai Somu was universally acknowledged as the greatest interpreter of Chitoor school of music. A great innovator, Somu, who became a legend in his lifetime, irked the die hard purists by taking liberties with form and style. It is undeniable , though, that his efforts injected vivacity into the entire tradition of Carnatic Music.
The music of Somu was possibly the best conceivable blend of technique and appeal. His voice was so unique in its expressiveness that it could afford anything from a mere quiver of resonance to a flood of melody. Added to this potential for infinite musical expression was a vivid imagination that reveled in a variety of stylizations and improvisations, all within a larger framework of the Carnatic tradition. He adopted his medium to render fluent raga alapanas, complex Pallavis,Tamil sprituals and soulful bhajans with an artistry all his own.
In his voice, the fluid line of Carnatic music took on a novel shape - the theme developed the technique instead of the technique molding the theme.. And that what made Somu one of the most popular and also one of the most controversial musicians of this century. Which is also why, despite the impressive following he built up over five decades, he had as many detractors as he had admirers. He had built up a permanent audience of his own. To such an audience, nothing else mattered once Somu came on the concert platform.
The basics of Carnatic music was taught by Sri Sesha Bagawathar of Madurai, by Sri Abhirama Sasthriar and by Sri Settur Sundaresa Patter. The entire art was bestowed on by Sangeetha Kalanidhi Sri Chitoor Subramanya Pillai, in turn he had been a disciple of Laya Brahmam Kanchipuram Sri Subramanya Pillai(alias) Naina Pillai. Nearly fourteen years took to master the Carnatic music , during which period had to be a disciple under Gurukulam.
The intensive preaches of Guru Chitoor Subramanya Pillai could able to bring out an excellent performance , and this was first performed in the year 1934 at Thiruchendur Lord Murugan Temple.
Somu has received numerous titles and awards. Apart from the Padmashri award, he was the recipient of the Sangeet Natak Academy award for Carnatic music in 1978. He received an honorary doctors degree from the Annamalai University.
Awards and Titles to Somu:
- "Ranjitha Ghana" was the first title Somu received in the year 1946
- The title of "Isai Perarigner" was awarded by the Chennai Tamil Isai Sangam at their 29th Conference during 1971-1972
- Tamil Nadu Sangeetha Nataka Academy conferred the title " Kalai Mamani" in the year 1972
- During the year 1976, "Padmashri" was awarded by Shri Fakiruddin Ali Ahmed, the then President of India
- The responsible post of Ex-Professor and Head of the Music department , and Dean of Faculty of Fine Arts was given by Annamalai University, Chidambaram, South Arcot, Tamil Nadu
- The New Delhi, Sangeet Natak Academy selected as one of the General Council and Executive member for a period of five years from 1971.
- The President of India, Shri N. Sanjeeva Reddi in the year 1978 awarded " Sangeeth Natak Academy Award"
- The Post of visiting Professor was given by Tamil Nadu University, Tanjore
- The prestigeous position of "Asthina Vidwan" was bestowed at Kanchi Kamakodi Peedam on 12.08.1987 and also the title of "Isai Arasu" was conferred
This is the opening (Marudamalai Mamaniye) line of the most popular piece in Devar's Deivam(1971) in which music was scored by Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan. There was hardly anything left for the music-director, as the lion of classical music roared at the mike, with bhava engulfing the whole song. The discs (cassettes were not very much popular in those days) were sold like hot cakes, bringing Madurai Somu an incredible amount of royalty. Those in the industry still long for a song like 'Marudamalai Mamaniye', rendered by Somu himself. The Deivam banner(Devar films) once again brought Somu before the mike for another film, "Shasti Viradham" in 1973.